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Red Wings evening/overnight news: on prospects, free agency and Joey Kocur’s charity softball game

Updated with enough stuff to make this an “overnight report” at 4:42 AM on Sunday morning: I made the trip from Traverse City back to South Lyon safely and soundly, and while the scenery in South Lyon isn’t nearly as lovely as it is in the Cherry Capital, it feels good to be home and to know that I won’t be getting up at 6 AM tomorrow. aside from a Saturday’s worth of varying reactions to what was apparently the NHL’s real first CBA proposal to the NHLPA yesterday—and as Citizen Weber suggests, yes, Gary Bettman does indeed think fans like you and I are stupid enough to believe the imminent line of BS he and the league will issue about finding themselves mired in a $3-plus-billion revenue-generating sinkhole—and a little queen’s waving from one Tomas Holmstrom...

It’s the same old, same old this evening, folks. Stories are still coming in from the Wings’ summer development camp, and Ken Holland’s issuing a little free agency philosophy.

Let’s start with Prospect News:

The Wings’ website posted both a Facebook photo gallery from the Wings’ final scrimmage and an article in which Andrea Nelson discusses the wrapping up of the Wings’ development camp with some of the prospects and two people I wasn’t able to speak to over the last couple of days of camp in Wings assistant GM Jim Nill and director of player development Jiri Fischer:

“It’s really a going-to-college time for our younger players,” Assistant General Manager Jim Nill said of the camp. “We draft these players and they’ve been in college, they’ve played in Europe, they’ve been in junior and we bring them in here. They’ve all been the best players where they’ve been and all of a sudden now they start to move up the pyramid and everybody is a good player and we’re trying to make these guys be better players.”
...
[T]he latest draft class members weren’t the only new faces. In addition to the prospects from each of the last six drafts, five free agent players and eight invitees were in attendance. The fresh faces always concern Nill. No one knows how the new players will adapt to the new experience, but he had no reason to worry.

“Some of them don’t speak English yet or very little English,” Nill explained. Some of them haven’t been to North America before so it’s a new test flying into the airport, losing their equipment. So it’s a great learning tool for them but they all adapted very well and as the camp goes on it’s really rewarding to watch them to see how they start to bond with other players and get comfortable.”

For the first few days, the new players hung their heads and averted eye contact, assessing the new teammates and situations they faced. But as quickly as their eyes darted away, Nill said their confidence returned and they were back to being themselves. They had conquered the emotional challenge. The coaches had nothing to worry about when it came to the physical ones.

“We always talk to them that they have a certain criteria to follow and sometimes not all the kids follow it,” Nill said of the prospects’ pre-camp workouts. “But they came to this camp and everybody’s been in great shape. Some of our picks from this year’s draft, I thought Frk was very good, but really I hate to single out individual players because I really thought they all played very hard. They worked very hard off the ice and we just thought it was a great camp.”
...
“The young guys, definitely Mike McKee got some publicity pretty early for being big and skating well and isn’t afraid to stick up for his teammates,” Fischer explained. “So that’s good to have him on board. He’s definitely a different type of player than we’ve drafted in the past so he’s played well. I think James De Haas, he really managed the puck really well, he moved it around pretty good. And for Ryan Sproul and Xavier Ouellet, they’re the most recent signed defenseman that we contracted for the next three years. They learned this year that nothing is ever given. I think they went through it okay, but because the expectations are a lot higher now they know that they’re going to have to fight for the spot all the time.”

Many of the comments came from the following video:

Hint for the GoPro camera footage: black tape on the stick blade = Brendan Smith, white tape on the stick blade = Tomas Jurco.

As timing is everything in this business, Hockey’s Future’s Mike Farkas picked a fine time to toss of a review of the Wings’ 2012 draft class, and I’d prefer to focus on the following prospects:

Andreas Athanasiou, LW – London Knights (OHL)
4th round, 110th overall
Height: 6’ Weight: 177 lbs

London forward Andreas Athanasiou fell out of the top-100 on the second day of the draft to Detroit in the fourth round. Known primarily for his speed and hands, Athanasiou didn’t see a marked improvement in his offensive numbers in his second year in the OHL. He scored 22 goals and 15 assists in 63 games but scored just two goals in 14 playoff games for the Knights. He was such a disappointment in the playoffs that he ended up being scratched at times but did return for the Memorial Cup with some more vim and vigor. He was named to the second all-rookie team in 2011, but by most accounts his 2012 season was a letdown based on expectations.

Athanasiou was one of the fastest players available in the 2012 NHL Draft and has a nice pair of mitts to match. His technical skill can best be described as creative, crafty, and imaginative. He keeps his feet moving well in corners and along the boards and despite his slight frame, he can build up enough inertia to clobber some defensemen on the forecheck. He’s still something of a one-trick pony and that one trick isn’t blowing away a junior league at the moment it seems. He creates offense almost exclusively on speed and has below average vision on the ice. He’s not a very good passer nor does he have elite level finishing skills – he doesn’t score many goals with a snappy wristshot from out high, for instance. His defensive game is lacking enough to get him sat during the playoffs, so that will need to be improved, but it appears as if any improvement will just be based on work rate as opposed to anticipation ability.

He really could stand to mature his game in almost every facet. He’s a long-term project certainly and is trying to find a toolbox for his tools. Right now, it’s not unfair to get a little Rico Fata (with better hands) or Jeff Heerema vibe from Athanasiou, but he could also turn out to be the steal of the draft if it all comes together for him.

Athanasiou’s a bit of a puzzle as he’s fast but not necessarily speedy. What strikes you about his speed is the fact that he skates just as fast with the puck as he does without it, and that he finds a way of squeezing through players on his way toward the net. He doesn’t roar up and down the ice with Alan Quine’s fleet feet or Trevor Parkes’ power, but Athanasiou’s sneaky fast, and it serves him well because his leg strength allows him to push through traffic even though he’s physically underdeveloped.

Mike McKee, D – Lincoln Stars (USHL)
5th round, 140th overall
Height: 6’5 Weight: 229 lbs

The first defenseman that the Wings selected in 2012 was passed over in 2011 before moving to the USHL. Already of pro size at 6’5 and 229 pounds, Mike McKee plays a physical brand of hockey that can be devastating to the opposition. He spent the year in Lincoln with the Stars where he notched just two goals and 19 points in 59 games; however, he found himself in the penalty box more than any other player in the league. At 237 penalty minutes plus another 44 in the playoffs, McKee found himself confined to the sin bin for an alarming amount of time. While some of it may be mildly attributable to being so much bigger than his peers, still a sizeable portion of that number is brought upon himself by racking up a ton of fighting majors.

McKee can move pretty well for such a big player which will allow him to progress as a defensive defenseman. He was a forward up until a few years ago, but no one would guess that based on his puck skills which are safe and simple. He’s a very raw prospect that will need a lot of work on the defensive side of the game so that he can bring a net positive to a 5-on-5 shift at the NHL level, as opposed to being pigeon-holed as an enforcer. McKee will join Western Michigan University either this fall or the following fall, which should be interesting as fighting is not permitted at the collegiate level.

If Max Nicastro was built like a moose, Mike McKee was Paul Bunyan. Gigantic, just a mountain of a man, he lapped up skill development drills, kept up in terms of systems play and asked the Wings’ strength coaches to push him past the limits others were straining to reach. But he is very much so a player who’s gotten to where he is because he’s naturally bigger and stronger than his peers, and he’s got to ensure that he trains smarter and works with equal enthusiasm at developing better skating and puckhandling skills, and the fall tournament will be a bell-weather marker as to whether he’s got the discipline to become a liability by being over-physical.

 


In a completely different kind of developmental vein, Ken Holland more or less reiterated his talking points about not always landing the big free agent fish while speaking to the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness at this past Wednesday’s Winter Classic Alumni Game(s) press conference…

“It used to be in the early 2000s there were seven, eight, nine team in the running for high profile players and now there are 30 for a variety of reasons,” Holland said. “I think people want to look on one or two decisions and make a decision, but I don’t think you can make a decision based on one or two decisions you have to look at the entire scope of what’s going on in the National Hockey League. I think the Detroit Red Wings still have a lot of respect around the league, but that’s me.”

And he tossed off the Wings’ party line regarding Shane Doan…

“By the end of the day players have to make personal decisions that fit their wants and needs,” Holland said. “If and when he decides he wants to leave Phoenix, I think he’s the type of player that all 30 teams in the league would love to have.”

But Pleiness added some organizational context to the mix, and did so for a reason::

Detroit has 22 players signed for $53.3 million, with a salary cap of $70.2 million. The signed players include forward Gustav Nyquist and defenseman Brendan Smith, both on two-way deals.

The Wings also have restricted free agents Kyle Quincey and Justin Abdelkader to re-sign. Quincey, who has an arbitration earning on July 25, made $3.25 million last season. As for Abdelkader, the Wings would like to sign him to a four-year deal at just under $2 million a season.

That leaves Detroit about $12 million under the salary cap with 24 players, one over the roster limit. And just six of those players are defensemen, which leads to speculation of the Wings trying to work on a trade to sure up the blue line.

“We’re going to try and do some things,” Holland said. “We have some cap space so we’ll see. But it has to be the right fit whether it’s a trade or someone wants to come here. We’re working the phones so we’ll see. At the same time we’re in a cap world,” Holland continued. “We’re moving some younger people in. If we’re not moving younger people in we’re going backwards. Brendan Smith has to play. Gustav Nyquist has to have an opportunity. Jimmy Howard is 27. We signed Jonas Gustavsson and he’s 28. Darren Helm is 25. Those players have to be a part of where we’re going.”

Given that Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson told TSN’s Gino Reda that he wants young forwards in exchange for Rick Nash, and that, as the Sporting News’s Sean Gentile suggests, the Wings would have to thus include Gustav Nyquist (see: 60+-point potential, the only elite offensive prospect that’s ready for prime time) and/or Darren Helm (see: Kris Draper II, except faster and maybe with better hands) and/or Valtteri Filppula (see: he’s going to wear an alternate captain’s “A” this season on a rotating basis, he’s going to be signed to a long-term contract extension and he can put up 20 goals and 60 points on his own), in addition to Brendan Smith and some first-round draft picks, well…

That doesn’t make much sense. The Wings would would have to create holes in their roster going forward to fill another, and when a trade makes sense for the team trading the player but not the team interested in filling a need, then the team that’s interested in filling a need should find a different (cough free agency cough) way to address that issue.

 


In charitable news, WWJ posted the following:

The Joe Kocur Foundation for Children will host its 4th Annual Charity Softball Event on Saturday, August 4, at Duck Lake Pines Park in Highland.

The day will consist of four games featuring a celebrity game at 5 p.m. with The Detroit Red Wings Alumni and Detroit area sports and entertainment celebrities.

Games are scheduled for 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., and will also include a little league game, a sponsor appreciation game and the law enforcement and fire fighters from Milford, Highland Township, White Lake and Oakland County.

Opening ceremony and introductions prior to the celebrity game will feature Karen Newman singing the National Anthem and accompanied by the United States Color Guard.

All proceeds will benefit local children’s charities, consisting of Team Kendal Kidz, Wings of Mercy East Michigan, Far Conservatory, The Huron Valley Special Olympics and the Lakeland High School Public Service Scholarship for a student going into Law Enforcement or Fire Fighting in honor of the late Shannon Gaber Silverthorn.

Special alumni hockey and sports guests include Joe Kocur, Kris Draper, Dino Ciccarelli, Darren McCarty, Kirk Maltby, Manny Legace, Eddie Mio, Wayne Presley, Brian Smolinski, Jason Woolley, Steve Avery, John Ogrodnick, Dave Lewis, Dave Rozema and more.

Raffle prizes will be awarded during the games, while attendees can also join in on the silent auction filled with fabulous items to bid on, including tons of signed sports memorabilia and gift certificates to local restaurants, spas and services.

Between games, you and your family can get an autograph from your favorite Red Wings or local celebrity. Kids will have their own baseball diamond filled with fun events and plenty of attractions from bounce houses and dunk tank to home run derbies.

Various viewing bleachers and tents will be set up along the path near all four diamonds for attendees to watch and cheer their favorite charity and local public services. Event organizers recommend bringing lawn chairs as bleacher space fills up quickly with a crowd of over 2,500 expected to attend.

Gates will open at 10 a.m. for early access into venue. Additionally, free shuttle service from a nearby location on M-59 will be available for overflow traffic.

Tickets purchased in advance are $10 per person or $15 per person at the event. Children under 10 years old are free, as are autographs. Individual tickets may be purchased directly online at http://www.joekocurfoundation.com or http://www.joekocur.eventbrite.com up to August 4th.

RedWingsFeed found both the flyer for the event, the Joey Kocur Foundation’s website and its Twitter account...

 

And finally, also via RedWingsFeed and the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness, I believe we have a little, “Who really started it?” on our hands…

While the Pittsburgh Penguins may have started the tradition of two alumni games leading up to the Winter Classic, the Wings may have started the practice of players skating with family members.

When Detroit played the Chicago Blackhawks in the second Winter Classic, the Wings had a two-hour practice window outdoors.

Coach Mike Babcock decided before he only needed an hour and then the other hour could be used for players and staff to skate with their families.

“I think that has become a bit of a tradition too in the Winter Classic,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “I skated with my family, three of my four kids were there and my wife was on the ice. It was incredible to be on the ice skating around knowing that there was going to be a game played out there with 45,000 watching the next day.”

 

Update: The Free Press’s George Sipple penned an article about Teemu Pulkkinen, and the Sacramento Bee posted an early edition thereof:

“I like play offensive style,” Pulkkinen said. “That’s my job, to get the goals. I want to shoot the puck, and of course make good plays for teammates. I want to be offensive guy, but I have to do my own job on defense.”

Pulkkinen, 20, will return for training camp with the Wings in September. Due to international agreements, he would either have to play for the Wings or return to Finland for one more season. Because the Wings already have an overabundance of forwards, Pulkkinen is preparing to return to his Jokerit Helsinki team.

“Of course my goal is play in Detroit,” he said. “I practice hard, and if I don’t make the team I’m going back to Finland and play one more year. I have to play one good season. The first season was good there, but the second season wasn’t so good. I have to take the last step and score goals.”

Pulkkinen (5-feet-10, 194 pounds) will have plenty of motivation returning to Jokerit Helsinki because he wasn’t happy with his totals last season. After scoring 18 goals and 36 assists for 54 points in 55 games for Jokerit in 2010-2011, he slipped to 16 goals and 21 assists in 56 games . Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill said that after a great year in 2010-2011, Pulkkinen may have been “a little comfortable” last season.

“Sometimes it catches up to you,” Nill said. “He probably didn’t prepare as much as he should have that summer after having a good year. He’s come into this camp in great shape.”

Pulkkinen said he’s worked to get stronger. He said he has also tried to improve defensively.

“Next season is going to be big season for me,” he said. “Last season wasn’t so good. Next season is so important.”

 


Update: In lieu of some CBA philosophy 101, I’d prefer to spare you the B.S. and note the following as an “overnight report” addendum:

• The Free Press’s actual print version of Sipple’s story on Pulkkinen doesn’t add anything new to the mix;

• The Left Wing Lock’s Sarah Lindenau spoke to Andreas Athanasiou about his ups and downs as a seldomly-used forward by the London Knights, as well as his experiences at the Wings’ summer development camp…

“We had a deep team with a lot of forwards,” Athanasiou said. “You just had to take your turn and it was just part of the game, but it was hard to be a healthy scratch. When I played I just tried to show them what I could do even with limited ice time. For the amount of opportunity I had, I think I produced well.”

The 6-foot, 179 pound left wing was also a healthy scratch during the Memorial Cup playing in just three games. Athanasiou wasn’t able to produce consistently and was held pointless in two of his three games as London fell to the eventual Memorial Cup Champions, the Shawinigan Cataractes of the QMJHL.

“In the Memorial Cup I was a healthy scratch the first game and the next game I came back and had a goal and an assist,” he said. “I bounced back and didn’t let it effect my game. I tried to bottled it up and use it to my advantage and I think I played really well.”

Athanasiou is expected to play a larger role in London’s offense next season with many veterans not returning. He’ll be given every chance to prove he can play consistently and earn top six minutes.

“I think it all comes to opportunity next year and if I get it, I will produce,” Athanasiou said. “I just need to get stronger and improve my shot and I am focusing on those areas this summer. I want to come to camp in the best shape so I can earn a bigger role.”

The London, Ontario native spent last week at the Red Wings development camp in Traverse City, MI trying to learn from his first professional experience. Athanasiou, whose father was born in Athens Greece and immigrated to Canada to become a commercial airline pilot, used his language skills on the ice with former Red Wing, Chris Chelios.

“Chelios and I were speaking Greek during the drills,” he said. “He’s been really welcoming towards me as has the rest of the organization. This is such a class organization and this week has taught me so much that will help next season.”

• Via RedWingsFeed, I’m going to have to call shenanigans on this quip from the Free Press’s Steve Schrader:

What Clint Eastwood flick is Red Wings prospect Mitch Callahan’s nickname?

A) “Dirty Harry.”

B) “The Enforcer.”

C) “Blood Work.”

D) “Bridges of Madison County.”

That’s too hard to say on the ice. His Twitter handle, “emcy1five” suggests that “Mitch” calls himself “MC,” and as hockey players tend to like to add an “ie” or “y” to players’ last names, and as he’s from California, “Cally” seems quite appropriate. I haven’t heard him ever called anything other than Mitch;

• Somewhat conveniently, as Sovetsky Sport’s Pavel Lysenkov reports, CSKA Moscow GM Sergei Fedorov told reporters that he has yet to retire that everybody and their Russian uncle know that Fedorov will officially retire from hockey after playing in one last game for CSKA Moscow sometime this fall;

• Speaking of the KHL, R-Sport reports that the NHL and KHL have extended their “memorandum of understanding” about not poaching other players with valid contracts in the NHL or KHL—restricted free agents excluded on the KHL’s part, of course;

• And while I don’t want to overburden you with CBA blather, the New York Post’s Larry Brooks does point out that the translated percentage of league-wide revenues that the league’s initial proposal, which would shave the “players’ share” from 57% to 46% of revenues, would represent a decrease of 22% of their current take of the league’s $3.3 billion revenue pie.

Otherwise, without citing endless reports, I will suggest that the initial CBA stories tell you more about the people writing them than they do their take on the state of labor negotiations—the yawns tend to come from those who will be gainfully employed regardless of whether there is a lockout, the, “You have no power as fans, oh well, we’ll have to wait” comments tend to come from hockey journalists who will remain employed because they’re established, the, “Oh s***, this means tons of players going to the KHL!” or, “Oh no, no more free agent fun!” articles speak toward people whose agendas involve hyping those respective scenarios….

And me?

I was a “powerless” fan trying to explain that the league’s “reduced salaries = reduced ticket prices, forever!” line of BS was indeed hollow horse pucky to 40 or 50 other fans on a message board back in 2004, and now?

I’m ready to help organize “flash mobs” of people showing up outside the league’s offices in Toronto and New York to at least make noise and make sure the parties involved and the NHL in particular can’t simply lock out its players for a third time under Gary Bettman’s reign, never mind the second time in eight years, and think it can get away with simply slapping, Thank You Fans! on the ice like it did when we all came rushing back in 2005.

The least a Twitter, Facebook and blog-empowered fan base can do is make their voices heard with more than simply saying that we’re not going to buy tickets or merchandise—we can make ourselves very noisy and very apparent in numbers, at the places the NHL and PA are announcing they’re negotiating beforehand, so we give ourselves names, faces and annoyance in more than virtual form.

Where we could go from there is up to the rest of you to figure out. I’m all about instigating, agitating, annoying and rallying around the cause of a fan insurgency.

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Comments

RWBill's avatar

Nice write-ups on the players.  Jiri’s English has become almost flawless.

Posted by RWBill from cruising Brush Street with creepy Rob Lowe. on 07/15/12 at 01:03 AM ET

HockeytownOverhaul's avatar

Seems everyone is excited to get Frk.  Jiri keeps beaming about him and Nill mentioned him specifically.

Posted by HockeytownOverhaul on 07/15/12 at 01:11 AM ET

Avatar

Hi all, What do ya think will be our starting pairs of D-men opening day? ...an idea…1st pr: Kronwell/White…2nd pr: Quincey/Ericsson…..3rd pr:Smith / Kindl…..7th D….? Maybe we pick up a top 4 Dman via Trade or Sign….and then the pairing would change accordingly to Babcock’s choice, Maybe one of the 19 might take this and ya know ask the FANS article with their own D- Man pairings/possibilites. ( ? ) thanks..rayzredwing wink  wink

Posted by rayzredwing on 07/15/12 at 04:35 AM ET

Avatar

Of course MC5 is the name of an iconic Detroit band. Maybe Callahan has been studying up on his Motor City history.

Posted by voline on 07/15/12 at 08:44 AM ET

RWBill's avatar

Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels?

Posted by RWBill from cruising Brush Street with creepy Rob Lowe. on 07/15/12 at 11:32 AM ET

RWBill's avatar

Mitch Ryder currently lives in South Lyon.

Posted by RWBill from cruising Brush Street with creepy Rob Lowe. on 07/15/12 at 11:44 AM ET

Avatar

So if Fedorov hasn’t officially retired from hockey, would he even be eligible for the alumni games?

Posted by wingsluver4ever from Hockeytown North on 07/15/12 at 04:39 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

Sure, Sergei will be able to play. He’s going to actually retire after playing one final game for the team he started his career with way back in 1986 in CSKA. He’s far too busy as their general manager to play more than a game or two.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 07/15/12 at 05:18 PM ET

Avatar

Nice.  Andreas has elite, elite speed but can’t even crack his junior team’s playoff roster.  I guess that’s why the wings’ player development leaders haven’t done squat in many, many years, b/c they aren’t getting the talent we’ve been told they are. 

Maybe that’s why the Griffins have only one playoff berth since the lockout and the prospects have NEVER won the prospects tournament despite playing on their “home” ice, several years against only three other teams.  I think they’ve only made the finals once. 

Each one of them is elite, though, and a few are all-stars and a couple are superstars.  Just ask George.  He’ll tell you with those red-coloured glasses on.  Question authority, GM, don’t accept the party line—or in your vinacular, don’t drink the Kool-aide. 

As soon as McCollum and Feraro are multiple-time all-stars, I’ll lay off the criticism.  Until then, suck it up.

Posted by jkm2011 on 07/16/12 at 12:02 AM ET

George Malik's avatar

If they didn’t have elite skills in one area or another, the Wings wouldn’t have drafted them.

The problem is that you can have Teemu Pulkkinen’s hands and wash out of hockey at 21. The problem is that you can have Andreas Athanasiou’s feet and not be able to crack your team’s playoff roster because bigger, stronger and more consistent players have earned their coaches’ trust.

Elite skills in one or more areas of one’s game to not automatically translate into professional success.

Players’ bodies, brains and skill sets have to intersect at the same time while building enough experience to launch professional careers and then build the professional foundation for NHL careers, and these events combine to yield a contributing NHL player on incredibly rare instances.

I’ve never seen a more naturally “elite” player than Pavel Agarkov, a draft pick the Wings brought to a sort of pre-season skate-around back in 1995, just after the lockout ended. He had Sergei Fedorov’s speed and Slava Kozlov’s hands. And he ended up playing as a semi-professional in various Russian hockey leagues and truly translating his hockey skill sets into an elite life skill set in pursuing alcoholism. He was and probably still is, assuming he’s alive, a professional drunk.

Elite does not translate into, “They’re going to make the NHL!” It translates into possessing certain advantages in terms of hockey-playing skills that are only part of a very large, complicated and moving picture.

I’m not going to deny that for a second. If you have a problem with me daring to be positive, either stop reading or get over yourself.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 07/16/12 at 01:16 AM ET

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About The Malik Report

The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.